Bruins

Bruins' Joakim Nordstrom preferred Boston's COVID-19 approach over native Sweden

Bruins' Joakim Nordstrom preferred Boston's COVID-19 approach over native Sweden

Interesting to get the perspective of Bruins winger Joakim Nordstrom, who has been back in Boston about a week after spending most of the last three plus months in his home country of Sweden.

Nordstrom spent a few weeks around Boston with his girlfriend after the NHL regular season went on pause in mid-March and returned to his NHL home city recently with the July 10 open of NHL training camp rapidly approaching on the horizon.

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But in between, Nordstrom was living in his home about 30 minutes outside Stockholm where Sweden opted to go without any social distancing or protection protocols in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak around the globe. Nordstrom said it’s a stark contrast between approaches from his home country of Sweden and a city like Boston that was considered an early hotspot for the virus in the United States.

It also sounds like Nordstrom greatly preferred the approach that Massachusetts opted for when all things were considered.

Nordstrom said he chose to go back to Sweden because he has a home outside the city where he can more easily be self-quarantined rather than the building unit in Boston where he lived during the hockey season. It would be interesting to see what he chose were he to do it all over again as he wasn’t even able to skate much in Sweden with all of his hockey equipment stuck back in Massachusetts.

“It’s been different, for sure. Back home in Sweden, I went into the city once for lunch and it was like a different world coming from Boston. Here you walk the sidewalk and you’re meeting someone else and you’re really keeping the distance. You’re almost walking out into the street to keep six feet apart,” said Nordstrom, who has tested negative three times for COVID-19 and will begin skating with the rest of the Bruins in Phase 2 once he gets through one more round of testing. “Where back home, I could be a little frustrated that people really didn’t care about the social distancing downtown. We tried to stay away from the city as much possible. Our house is almost like being on the countryside, so around the house we would live pretty normally.

I don’t know what the right approach is, but for me personally I don’t want the virus. So for me here in Boston, the precautions and how serious people are taking it was in favor of my opinion. It’s hard to say how businesses are doing here as compared to Sweden, the financial part of it. But if you asked me, I like it more the way it’s been here with the respect that people have shown to the pandemic and to everybody else. It’s been better [in Boston].

That would certainly be backed up by the numbers as Boston has essentially flattened the COVID-19 curve over the last month while slowly re-opening as numbers are spiking in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California among others.

It remains to be seen how each country ends up faring against COVID-19 when treatment and/or a vaccine reduces the threat of the global pandemic, but the U.S. has far more COVID-19-related deaths (129,000) than any other country in the world even as places like Boston and New York City have managed to do a much better job of containing the highly contagious virus since the outbreaks back in March.  

Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

While the NHL offseason has been put off until the late fall based on the Return to Play timeline, it’s still coming for the NHL and for salary cap-strapped teams like the Boston Bruins.

The NHL is on the verge of approving a CBA extension with the NHLPA that’s going to push out a flat salary cap for at least two seasons, and it could end up being three seasons based on the expected economic and revenue downturn.

That means the NHL is going to have an $81.5 million salary cap ceiling for at least the next few years, and the Bruins won’t have a ton of space based on the $63.5 million already paid out for salaries for the 2020-21 NHL season.

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The Bruins will then have about $18 million in cap space to sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork as well as unrestricted free agents Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins aren’t expected to pay out abnormally extravagant numbers to Bjork, Grzelcyk or the 43-year-old Chara, but it’s going to be a little dicey when it comes to contracts for DeBrusk and Krug.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Krug was looking at something in the neighborhood of $8 million per season on a long-term deal — either with Boston or with another team looking for a power play quarterback and elite point producer on the back end. The 23-year-old DeBrusk, meanwhile, has averaged 20 goals per season in his three-year NHL career and had 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games when the NHL regular season went on pause this year.

DeBrusk has averaged 20 goals and 40 points per season with a high of 27 goals scored last year, and he’s essentially been a top-6 winger for his entire career in Boston. That had Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer trumpeting him as “a $6 million a year player” when talking about DeBrusk’s future on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call last week.

“I think Jake is a really good top-6 forward, top-6 winger. You guys saw him against the [Maple Leafs] and the Blues in the playoffs, he’s got a little bit of gamesmanship to him,” said Stauffer. “It’s interesting because he was such a late bloomer. The player I compared Jake to was Joffrey Lupul, who suddenly became a scoring star in junior hockey.

To me, I think Jake is a $5.5-6 million player. Maybe that money comes down a bit because of the cap. I think he’s a $6 million forward. He’s a guy that’s going to be capable of scoring 25-30 goals in a full season. That’s a $6 million forward to me.

One thing is for sure: If DeBrusk is a $6 million a year player and Krug is an $8 million a year player, then one of them is probably not going to be in Boston next season.

Interestingly enough, Stauffer had DeBrusk’s agent, Rick Valette from Octagon, on his Oilers Now radio show on Monday to talk about the future negotiations between DeBrusk and the Bruins. It didn’t sound like DeBrusk was going to be taking a hometown discount like some of the other B’s players have done in the recent past.  

“I don’t really consider that at this point. Will it play into it? Maybe,” said Valette, when asked about the internal salary structure for the Bruins that sees Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand all on pretty team-friendly deals under $7 million per season. “I would hope not. That’s not typically how I would approach that. The one thing I would add to Jake is that you want to look at his playoff performance and what he’s done in the playoffs in big games. The Toronto series from a couple of years ago, for example. He’s a big-game performer and he’s been a top-6 forward almost from the moment he stepped into the National Hockey League.

“Boston certainly has some internal things that they like to look at, but I’m going to try to not look at that. I guess that’s the way I would say it to you.”

A couple of forward peers from DeBrusk’s 2015 draft class, Brock Boeser (3 years, $17.625 million or $5.875 million AAV) and Travis Konecny (six years, $33 million or $5.5 million AAV), both now top $5 million per season on second contracts they signed this past year. Kyle Connor signed a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.142 million AV) at the high end while Mat Barzal enters this offseason as an unsigned RFA as well. Both Boeser and Konecny had numbers similar to DeBrusk prior to signing those contracts, so DeBrusk knew what kind of payday awaited him if things were running along per usual.

Boeser is in a bit of a different class given his upside and production, but DeBrusk and Konecny would have been comparable players had DeBrusk surpassed 20 goals and 40 points with another month of games played (which he certainly would have done with 12 games left in the season).

Some of it may depend on how this postseason shakes down for DeBrusk. He was great two years ago with six goals and eight points in 12 playoff games, but last season had fewer goals (4) with 11 points in 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

A great playoff performance for DeBrusk could give those postseason numbers a real boost prior to him cashing in on his second deal, or a playoff struggle could drop him back under $5 million per season given some of this past season’s inconsistencies.

Either way it’s expected DeBrusk could be able to command something in that $5 million AAV neighborhood after averaging 20 goals per season in a league where goal-scorers still get paid.

Watch Joe Haggerty's Zoom call with Bob Stauffer below or on NBC Sports Boston's YouTube page:

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

The NHL is getting close, everybody.

The league is finalizing plans for Phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play protocol, and then it will need a few days to be approved by a vote from the entire NHLPA membership, but the NHL and NHLPA have got everything in place to give the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs a shot this summer.

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NHL training camps have now been pushed ahead to a planned July 13 opening date with qualifying round games set to begin on Aug. 1, and a Stanley Cup winner planned for early October in the hub city of Edmonton. Games will be played in two hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto, in the first couple of rounds before the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be shipped out west to the hockey hotbed of Alberta.

UPDATE (Monday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET): The NHL and NHLPA announced Monday a tentative agreement on a number of key issues, including a few notable dates involving the 2019-20 season.

--End of Update--

The level of safety guidelines and protocols is thoroughly amazing, all the way down to daily testing for hotel workers and bus drivers for the players, and there will be strict rules designed to keep the bubbles secure while ultimately protecting all of those involved with putting the games back on.

Meanwhile, the NHL released information on current COVID-19 positive rates with 23 players out of 369 testing positive since opting into the voluntary Phase 2 practices.

There have been 35 total players who have tested positive for COVID-19 out of roughly 600 NHL players across the world, which means NHL players are testing positive at a rate of roughly 5.8 percent with zero containment rules put into place outside of the rink. This is actually encouraging news considering that the NHL upped the number of players allowed together on the ice from six to 12 over the last couple of weeks, and there has been no demonstrable spike or spread aside from a handful of St. Louis Blues players and personnel who tested positive last week.

But the Return to Play plan certainly has some interesting features including:

• Families will not be allowed to be with NHL players until the conference finals and/or Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton, so NHL players could be away from their families for as long as five weeks during the qualifying rounds and first two rounds of the playoffs.

• Players with underlying health issues will be examined by doctors and could be restricted from playing if it’s deemed unsafe for them. This will be interesting for NHL players with Type 1 diabetes like Max Domi and Kaapo Kakko.

• Players who need to leave the bubble during play — for childbirth or family emergency for example — will need to be confined to isolation for four days and need four negative test results before potentially being able to rejoin their team.

• NHL players have until three days after the Return to Play is ratified to notify their teams they're opting out of participating in Phase 3 or 4, under the protocols tentatively agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA. There will be no penalty for doing so.

• The number of people scheduled to be tested daily in the NHL bubble includes: any player/coach/staff member, officials, ice crew, security, hotel bartenders, food service staff, arena food and beverage workers, hotel housekeeping, hotel kitchen staff and player transportation. That will add up to thousands of tests per day.

• Organizational failures to adhere to the Return to Play protocols “could lead to significant financial penalties, and potentially the loss of draft picks” and could result in individual players being ineligible to play and removed from the secured bubble.

• For NHL purposes, the league is going away from the term "hub cities" and instead prefers the terminology Phase 4 Secure Zone, which makes it sound like something out of a science-fiction movie.

All of this is subject to being approved by a simple majority of the 700-plus members of the NHLPA, of course, and that isn’t a slam dunk. It’s likely to happen, but one suspects the final vote is going to be a close one. Even with it being conditional, it feels like the NHL has done this about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

The biggest question now is whether the NHL is going to be able to pull all of this off.

There will be a requirement for upwards of close to 20,000 tests per day when there are 24 teams involved at the beginning of postseason play, and the testing will need to be rapid and universal throughout the 2-3 months that NHL teams will be playing. Already Major League Baseball is having issues with testing results getting backed up at the COVID-19 testing facility they are using, and it’s creating a situation where MLB teams are suspending practice until it gets resolved.

Could the same thing cause the NHL to come to a crashing halt?

Let’s hope not, because the Return to Play has been about as carefully considered as anything the NHL has ever done, and it really is beginning to feel like there’s going to be playoff hockey in August, September and October. There are still hurdles to be cleared to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs a safe, viable reality for everybody involved, but we’re saying there’s a chance.